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Does Legalizing Marijuana Help or Harm the United States? Research Paper

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Updated: Feb 24th, 2022

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The main social problem of the paper lies in legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, but the negative effect of marijuana on youth development, as well as considering marijuana as dangerous medicine, does not allow the government to fulfill this purpose. The main target population affected by marijuana is adolescents. Using marijuana for recreational purpose can hamper their normal emotional and psychological development.

The problem refers specifically to the marijuana legalization in the United States because not all states adopt legislature on this issue. The problem of marijuana legalization refers to the second half of the past century when the drug was quite popular among representatives of sub-culture. Marijuana legalization for recreational purpose is an urgent social issue because more and more teenagers fail to realize the negative consequences of its abuse.

The use of marijuana has been a subject of great controversy for a considerable length of time. In the 17th century period, the use of marijuana was quite widespread in most civilizations. It was used a lot for recreational purposes. Records obtained from historical facts reveal that marijuana was used in legal tendering in several locations in North America bearing in mind that it was a rare economic resource. As a result, there were myriads of cases when taxes, goods and services were exchanged using the product.

Before the mid-1850s, there were over 8000 hemp plantations in North America alone. Tons of marijuana were harvested out of these hemp plantations. Since the hemp plant was completely legal, even the United States’ Presidents like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington grew it in their own farms (Ferner par. 2). This paper argues that marijuana should be legalized, but regulated by the government as well.

Before the close of 2012, most voters in the US elections were upbeat on the legalization of marijuana in various states among individuals aged above twenty-one years. In terms of legalization, Colorado voters were highly likely to support the amendment 64 by a margin of 61 percent (Ruschmann 88).

This would only be supported if the use of marijuana could be controlled just like other drugs. They argue that the economy could be boosted if marijuana is legally permitted in the market since the government will be able to tax the product.

On the other hand, the government still maintains that any legalization of marijuana cannot be permitted since it is an addictive and risky drug. As it stands now, proponents of legalization of marijuana posit that the drug is still being traded in the black market since there are millions of users out there.

Does this imply that the government has lost the battle against illegal consumption of marijuana? According to Burnham (2), it is obvious that the policy behind prohibition of marijuana has been significantly weakened by the prevailing political agenda especially when key presidential candidates are seeking votes.

If the legalization of marijuana can indeed lead to job creation and improved infrastructures due to additional taxation, then it explains why both the opponents and proponents of legalizing marijuana agree that it should be regulated and taxed accordingly.

Opponents observe that regulation should entail age restriction and purpose for using the product. The latter measure is not merely being advocated by the proponents of marijuana use since the legalization of marijuana has been supported by NAACP not because it fully backs the smoking of marijuana. It is due to the fact that there are hundreds of individuals who have been negatively affected by the same laws.

This organization has been on the forefront in fighting against the use of marijuana mainly due to medical reasons. On the same note, medical experts who refute the consumption of marijuana observe that it leads to aggressive behavioral patterns among abusers. As a result, violent behaviors and state of lawlessness is common among neighborhoods that indiscriminately smoke marijuana.

Marijuana remains as one of the most popular drugs used for recreation globally. It is consumed in the same way as tobacco, caffeine and alcohol although its usage is quite lower than the other aforementioned drugs because it is highly restricted in most countries. For instance, over one hundred million Americans are believed to have attempted to smoke marijuana while another twenty-five percent of the latter figure smoked marijuana in the last 12 months (Causey par.2).

This is the reason why the debate on the legalization of marijuana has been on the increase since the past 10 years. In any case, the 20th century witnessed liberal use of marijuana even by medical professionals before most governments (such as the US) illegalized it. The current debate can be traced back to the past 50 years when there was need to streamline trade on dangerous narcotics. The US government is currently working towards funding medical researches on whether the drug has any benefits or not.

This topic is fundamentally researchable because various authors with reputable credentials have written materials on the topic. Matt Ferner has worked with Huffington Post as the editor. He also written The Encyclopedia of Everything novel. Causey is a blogger, columnist and an editorial writer for journals. Burnham has been a managing editor and a reputed staff writer at both the New York publishing house and New York Times. Ruschmann has been an editor writer and researcher for more than three decades.

As already mentioned, there are potential solutions being discussed to solve the problem. For instance, medical research activities are underway to establish and conclude on the pros and cons of marijuana. Besides, the process of illegalizing marijuana has proved to be very costly (Causey par. 5). Therefore, the US government is looking for possibilities of controlling marijuana usage without undergoing major costs or hampering the social wellbeing of the people.

I am personally interested in this topic because I have been familiar with several friends and other people who smoke the drug for various reasons. Perhaps, the most interesting reason is that it boosts the brain power.

If indeed marijuana improves the working ability of the human brain, then I am not sure if the effect is the same across the board since some of my peers who smoke it appear to be grossly confused while others are doing very well after using it. This mysterious and mixed effect of marijuana has prompted me to desire to learn more about the drug.

Before proceeding with in-depth evaluation of marijuana use and the underpinnings for its legalization, specific attention requires the analysis of historical background and evolution of the drug. Understanding the origins and previous use of the substance can identify future trends on using marijuana as a medication for people suffering from such diseases and disorders as glaucoma, nausea, and gastrointestinal illnesses (Taylor et al. 1).

Thus, the emphasis should be placed on past patterns of marijuana consumptions to define whether legalization should take place. In the following paper, the history of marijuana use in the United States will be addressed in detail. Overall, the evaluation of facts shows that although a number of prominent political leaders in the country support the legalization of marijuana, the negative position regarding the matter by the U.S. government remains unshakable after the 1920s.

According to a famous American author and human rights activist who is known for his remarkable works on the subjects of drug politics, terrorism, and media issues, Martin Lee (15), marijuana first appeared on the territory of the New World in 1545, when it was brought by the Spanish.

This date is officially considered to be the beginning of the history of marijuana in the United States. This author also states that as a valuable commodity, the hemp plant (used for the production of marijuana) was not only legal, but it was considered to be one of the most significant plants for the economy of the country (Lee 18).

In 1619, the hemp was legalized by the Virginia Assembly in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland (Lee 18). This favorable attitude to the plant continued until the beginning of the Great Revolution, when high officials and law makers began to reconsider regulations regarding drugs, and produce laws, prohibiting the abuse of a number of drugs (Lee 19).

Since the hemp plant was completely legal, even the United States’ Presidents like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington grew it in their own farms. Lee states that in the initial period, of the United States history, the hemp is seen as an “American commodity” and one of the most valuable raw materials (Lee 19).

The utterly negative vision regarding the use of marijuana begins to develop in the first decades of 20th century (Lee 38). By 1931, 29 states accept the laws, prohibiting the use of marijuana (Lee 39). This is explained by the fact that it is considered to be a drug that causes deviant behaviors, violence, and crime. The other author, who is a prominent specialist in psychopharmacology and its history, is Julie Holland. She states that before 1937, it was legal to distribute marijuana for non-medical reasons (Holland 142).

After this date, the marijuana Tax Act was put in place. The new law prohibited marijuana distribution (Holland 143). Paul Fat out, a prominent tutor at Purdue University, enlarges on the topic by saying that by the beginning of 1951, a minimum sentence for illegal distribution of marijuana is established by the Boggs Act (345). This law has remained in force until this date.

When anti-marijuana legislation was enacted, some sections of the political class were vehemently opposed to the idea (Holland 76). For instance, according to Dan Baum (famous American scholar, researcher, and writer), Dan Quayle, who was a U.S. representative, pointed out that the “congress should definitely consider decriminalizing possession of marijuana” (Baum 356).

The latter was similar to a sentiment that was echoed by Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, on the illegalization of marijuana that “a prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded” (para. 1).

Lee (60) explains that after 1951, the issue of using marijuana has been considered by different Presidential administrations each ten years. In this vein, in 1969, the Operation Intercept was implemented by President Richard Nixon as an anti-drug policy (Baum 124).

Similar position was demonstrated by Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, who once noted that “I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast” (Holland 135). There are several agencies and nongovernmental organizations that have been set up to ensure that the prohibition of marijuana remains in force. For instance, DEA is one of the agencies that have always refuted any attempts to legalize marijuana (Baum 182).

However, not all political activists and prominent people demonstrated negative attitude to marijuana in the 20th century. In 1988, marijuana was declared as one of the safest natural herbs by Francis Young (Baum 89). He was the DEA judge in Washington. He noted that marijuana could be used as a therapeutic substance especially in its natural form. Since then, the laws governing the control of marijuana and its consumption have been tightened to make it cumbersome for users to use and distribute it freely (Baum 173).

Similar attitude to the hemp plant was demonstrated by the other prominent personalities. For instance, according to Stephen King (a famous thinker and a prominent American writer), “marijuana should not only be legal…it should be a cottage industry” (qtd. in “Marijuana Quotes” para. 7).

1996 is considered to be an important date in the history of marijuana in the United States. According to Lee (93), in 1996, the voters in California managed to pass Proposition 215 that allowed using marijuana for medical purposes. This new proposal made it legal to possess certain minimum amounts of marijuana although the federal government has never supported these legislations (Baum 340). The statements from Proposition 215 were also supported and expanded in California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1999 (Lee 94).

Referring to these California state laws, proponents of legalization have been positing over the years that the drug should be legalized since it is not addictive like those that are processed.

Proponents who advocate legalization observe that even the past generation made use of marijuana in a safe and healthy way. For instance famous writer, Mark Twain, once noted that “what I contend is that my body is my own, at least I have always so regarded it. If I do harm through my experimenting with it, it is I who suffers, not the state” (Fatout 386).

Despite so many efforts by prominent American activists and political leaders to legalize marijuana, after the 1920s, the chemical continues to have an illegal status on the federal level. Still, heated debates about it never stop as numerous citizens around the country see a variety of positive outcomes in legalizing the use of marijuana.

The legalization issues are rigidly confronted by the government because of influence of the drugs on teenagers’ education and behavior. Lack of restriction imposed on marijuana use can lead to serious consequences because of failure of children to understand its negative effect on their psychological and emotional development.

Thus, marijuana should be legalized, but heavily controlled by governmental establishment, particularly by healthcare industry that plans to use it for recreational purposes. Many efforts have been made to change the illegal status of marijuana, which is explained by the fact that numerous citizens find the substance beneficial for a variety of reasons. In the following paper, the facts will be presented that show the rationale behind legalizing marijuana in the United States on the federal level.

This issue has been mainly reflected in the health risks, criminal activities and drug abuse aspects since the enactment of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Overall, the evidence proves that sanctioning the use of marijuana, but strictly controlling it via the government may solve many serious problems in the country. I agree with the politicians and activists who aim to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

Of course, not everybody agrees with me. The opponents of legalizing marijuana in the United States explain their position by a series of serious concerns. First, among their counterarguments is their care for the well-being of the young generation. As Kevin Sabet, A former adviser in the Obama administration has stated, “the bottom line is, if you care about young people succeeding in education and later in lives in your state, then you don’t want to legalize marijuana” (qtd. in Coffman and Dobuzinskis par. 7).

Also according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, “new data … shows that marijuana use is becoming a more acceptable behavior among teens, and heavy marijuana use is now at disturbingly high levels,” (Knickerbocker 2). This upsetting fact raises the level of commotion among the opponents of marijuana.

The above-mentioned apprehension by the opponents of legalizing marijuana is undeniably reasonable, and it should be definitely taken into consideration. Teens are very curious and willing to try new things. Usually, they unintentionally become addicted to drugs because of their curiosity. However, despite a negative vision on the matter, spread around particular groups of people, legalization of marijuana will become a mechanism that will help control the spread of this drug by the government (Stoned 25).

Today, marijuana is illegal on the federal level, and it puts its sales in an underground market. For the federal government effectively controls marijuana legalizing in the market, it should “allow the regulations to stick, permitting the state to continue with their own cannabis policies, including a taxation and business licensing system” (Elliott par.8).

Therefore, with the legalization of marijuana, it will become possible to have a stricter control of its spread. Therefore, young people may be fully restricted in marijuana purchasing opportunities. In addition, legalizing marijuana will cut down the level of crime, connected with the use of marijuana among the youngsters.

The next counterargument by the opponents of legalizing marijuana is in the fact that it is said to be dangerous for the human body. In this vein, a group of scientists states that marijuana has negative effects on “the human brain, particularly in the parts dedicated to memory, reaction time, learning and attention”, and can lead to “different types of anxieties, schizophrenia, and psychosis” (Schenker par. 6).

Regarding the harm of marijuana use to the human body, Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, once noted, “I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast” (Holland 135).

“The immediate negative effects of taking marijuana include rapid heartbeat, disorientation, and lack of physical coordination, often followed by depression or sleepiness. Some drug users suffer panic attacks or anxiety” (Stoned 15). The health risks are the most serious problems for drug addicts since it increases the probability of sudden illnesses.

Of course, the above-mentioned counterargument is significant as the health of the nation is a very serious matter. However, it is important to remember that the legalized use of recreational purposes. “The declaration formalizes A64 as part of Colorado’s state constitution and makes legal the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana under Colorado law for adults aged 21 and older” (Ferner par.2).

Not only in Colorado, had Washington also approved measures allowing adults to use marijuana for any purpose. This evidence proved that recreational purposes of marijuana use tend to be legalized in the U.S. 18 states and DC have already enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana including California, Arizona and Massachusetts (Ferner par.6).

On the contrary, this has numerous positive outcomes, and for many patients, it is the only option to control their pains, or improve their mental status in case they are diagnosed with autism or bipolar disorder (Crenshaw and Guyot 7). Besides, numerous medical doctors and specialists in medicine do not agree with the fact that the harm of marijuana to human body is provable (Crenshaw and Guyot 5). In addition, it should be a private responsibility of marijuana users to control their own health condition.

One more concern by the opponents of marijuana legalization is that this substance makes people addicted to drug abuse, and leads to shifting into more harmful drugs. According to Mitt Romney, who was Obama’s opponent at the 2012 elections, “marijuana is the starter drug” (Sullumpar. 4). The drug addicts can feel the harm of drugs on their body at the beginning; however, most of them enjoy the thrill of drugs better than the pain they bear so that they become addicted.

The opinion that marijuana becomes the first substance that a future drug addict takes in to never stop on one’s harmful pathway to drug addiction is definitely supported by many life examples. Nevertheless, scientists do not support the idea that marijuana is addictive. On the contrary, they say that the majority of marijuana users continue on this substance for their entire lifetime, and never shift to the other one (Crenshaw and Guyot 8).

Thus, it is up to a person, whether he or she will decide to go any further in one’s addictive experience with drugs. Although marijuana legalization opponents have very strong counterarguments in their reserve, a more careful examination of the real situation shows that the federal sanctioning of the use of marijuana will lead to solving of a variety of serious problems in the United States.

Less restriction imposed on marijuana use can minimize the illegal turnover of drugs in the United States, as well as reinforces the strategies of controlling the trade of hard drugs. Consequently, the government should adopt laws that permit using marijuana for recreational purposes under the list of the following restrictions.

To begin with, marijuana could not be accepted individuals under the age of 21 because of the law that prohibits substance consumption. Second, the government should impose strict taxes on its use, as those imposed on tobacco and alcohol. Third, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should regulate marijuana use. Finally, the government should reclassify the current status of marijuana and make it as an over counter medicine.

The proposed solutions address the FDA provision, which the audience in power. In particular, the organization should made changes to the existing law by persuading the governmental organizations and legislature to rethink the impact of marijuana and its use among adults. It is logical to impose prohibition of marijuana on youth because extensive researches support the negative influence of the drug on emotional and psychological development and behavior.

In particular, Joffe and Yancy refer to the controversial debates on marijuana legalization to define that the drug has a negative impact on teenagers’ physical and mental welfare (633). Despite the fact that “…marijuana smoke delivers “harmful substances” as well as a tetrahydrocannabinol to be expected to provide a precisely defined drug effect”, its use can still be beneficial for adults (Joffe and Yancy 634). Hence, the solution to limit the age category of individuals allowed to use marijuana is logical.

In fact, such a solution is quite consistent and realistic because there are a number of examples supporting this recommendation. From an economic perspective, the introduction of new legislature can also have positive impact on the development of the country.

At this point, Ducatti Flister argues, “…legalizing and regulating cannabis would float tax revenues to the government, ensuring that quality control tools, sales restrictions and licenses are in place” (99). Such a perspective can be applied to the case of marijuana legalization in the United States, which should be carefully considered by the proposed audience in power.

There is a false assumption that marijuana legalization can lead to the increased rates of crime in the United States because all legal encounters happen on the ground of illicit drugs trade. As a support for this, Thornhill has found no support for the increased criminal activities in certain regions because of the marijuana use (134).

Therefore, the strict limits imposed by the government on legalizing marijuana are relevant for recognizing the problem of illegal drug trade in the country. The proposed solutions is also supported in the studies by Walls et al., according which there is an evident distinction between legal marijuana use and illegal drugs. Indeed, the legalization of marijuana use for recreational purpose can reduce the illegal confrontation and establish a new frame for consumption of drugs in the United States.

The proposed solution can justify the historical analysis of marijuana use, as well as solve the problem of illegitimate use and trade of marijuana. It also address the FDA as the main leader actor should reconsider the issues and introduce greater financial accountability imposed on authorities and individuals who can contribute to the problem of substance abuse in the United States. The presence of the agreement is also another approach limiting the actions of the parties involved into use of the drug.

Works Cited

Baum, Dan. Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure. Boston: little Brown, 1996. Print.

Coffman, Keith, and Alex Dobuzinskis. Opponents of Legalizing Marijuana Focus on Risk to Teens. 22 Sep. 2012. Web.

Crenshaw, Wes, and Katie Guyot. “Double Take: Pros and Cons of Legalizing Marijuana.” Daily Journal World (2012):7-12. Print.

Ducatti Flister, Larissa. “The Economic Case for Marijuana Legalization in Canada”, Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences. 5.1 (2012):96-100. Print.

Elliott, Steve. Repeal: Fixing Our Government’s Control over Cannabis. 24 Apr. 2012. Web.

Fatout, Paul. Mark Twain Speaking. Lowa City: University of Lowa Press, 1776. Print.

Ferner, Matt. Marijuana for Recreational Use Now Legal In Colorado: Hickenlooper Signs Amendment 64 into State Constitution. 10 Dec. 2012. Web.

Holland, Julie. The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis. Rochester: Park Street Press, 2010. Print.

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Joffe, Alain, and W. Samuel Yancy. “Legalization of Marijuana: Potential Impact on Youth.” Pediatrics 113.6 (2004): 632-638. Print.

Knickerbocker, Brad. “President Obama Smoked Pot in High School. Why is He Against Legalizing Marijuana?”The Christian Science Monitor May (2012): 1-4. Print.

“Lawmakers Consider Legalizing Marijuana.” Crime Control Digest 34.46 (2000):12. Print.

Lee, Martin. Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific, New York: Scribner, 2012. Print.

Lincoln, Abraham. U.S. President Speech to Illinois House of Representatives. n. d. Web.

Marijuana Quotes by Famous People. 2013. Web.

Schenker, Mark. Americans Are at Odds over Legalization of Marijuana. 12 Apr. 2012. Web.

Stoned, Michael. Weed: 420 Things You Didn’t Know (or Remember) about Cannabis. Avon: Adams Media, 2009. Print.

Sullum, Jacob. Romney Vows to Fight Marijuana Legalization “Tooth and Nail” Unlike His Opponent?7 Sep. 2012. Web.

Taylor, Tia, Ralston Fred, Cook Molly, Chang Andrew, Cutler Charles, …and Kathleen Weaver. “Supporting Research into the Therapeutic Role of Marijuana”. American College of Physicians. 1-20. 2008. Web.

Thornhill, Theodore E. “African Americans And The Marijuana Legalization Paradox: Do Race-Specific Murder Victimization Rates And Race-Specific Drug Arrest Rates Explain It?.” Journal of Ethnicity In Criminal Justice 9.2 (2011): 110-135.

Walls, Becca, et al. “North Americans’ Attitudes toward Illegal Drugs.” Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment 19.2 (2009): 125-141.

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